Vice President of Health and Wellness (2018-2019) Ethel Nalule. Photo by Christine Liu for the TCSA.

As of this January, the TCSA now offers a mobility aid loan service called Mobility Access. TCSA Vice President of Student Health & Wellness Ethel Nalule implemented the service after having discussions with peers and Student Accessibility Services (SAS), in addition to drawing inspiration from her own health experiences. During operating hours, wheelchairs, canes, and walkers are available for loan to anyone who may need assistance getting around campus. To borrow a mobility aid, a waiver form can be signed at the TCSA office, which is located in the Student Centre.

Ethel said the idea came to her when she was out shopping, as malls and grocery stores offer wheelchairs to assist any customers who need it, and that services like this help to reduce pain in her day-to-day life.

Before transferring to Trent in 2016, Ethel attended Laurentian University.

“While at Laurentian, I was extremely ill but was unaware of all the resources on campus that could help me out, so when I transferred, I made it my number one goal to make sure I used the resources available to me at Trent. But the one that I couldn’t access was one to help me get around campus.”

The service is free, and available to anyone on campus, including guests to the university. Students can typically sign out a mobility aid until the TCSA office closes at 6 p.m.; however, arrangements can be made to extend the time limit for as long as the student needs. The TCSA has offered to arrange for a staff member to be on campus to work around these times.

Ethel said she would love to continue with more on-campus campaigns that tackle ableism and ageism.

“A lot of folks assume that canes are only for the elderly, but obviously, there is no age requirement for the use of a cane,” Ethel said, noting she and a few friends have received unpleasant judgement from others for using a cane on campus. “I would definitely like to further my work on reducing the stigma of invisible illnesses. Invisible illnesses range very widely and include mental illnesses as well. Sometimes people tend to forget that.”

Invisible illnesses can often include chronic pain, fatigue, and weakness. For many individuals, these symptoms fluctuate, requiring the need for a mobility aid some days and other days not. The stigma around invisible illnesses is a very real problem that exists nearly everywhere, and often leads to harassment and even violence toward individuals with invisible illnesses and disabilities.

Ethel said she is passionate about health and medicine.

“I take my experiences and think about what I can do to help the next person going through the same thing. But I can’t do it alone, so I’m always reaching out to friends and peers, and we run through ideas together.”

The response to the service has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly on social media. According to Ethel, people have expressed to her how happy they are to have the service implemented on campus, with some wishing they had such a program back when they needed it. So far, two students have used the service.

“I hope with time we get more mobility aids. A few people have reached out to me already, wanting to donate the mobility aids that they no longer use, so that’s really exciting!”

Ethel’s initiative is an incredible innovation that improves the options available to students to navigate around campus while reducing stigma for invisible illnesses and disabilities.